Cruz Bill Takes Aim at Muslim Brotherhood

     WASHINGTON (CN) - The House Judiciary Committee is calling on the U.S. State Department to designate the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization, while some say the effort is misguided.
     The legislation, introduced and sponsored by presidential candidate and Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, would bar anyone with ties to the group from entering the United States.
     The bill would also subject those who provide material support to the group to federal criminal penalties, and would force financial institutions to block all transactions involving the group's assets, according to a committee statement.
     "The Muslim Brotherhood's embrace of terrorism and the very real threat it poses to American lives and the national security of the United States make it long overdue for designation," Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said.
     The committee approved the Muslim Brotherhood Terrorist Designation Act by a vote of 17-10 on Wednesday.
     The bill has drawn some criticism from Middle East experts who say the bill ignores historical context and the evolution of the group's ideologies.
     "They have disavowed violence for some time now, finding it counter-productive and also counter to Islam," said Musa al-Gharbi, managing editor at the Southwest Initiative for the Study of Middle East Conflicts, a program based at the University of Arizona.
     The text of the bill builds a case for the terror designation based on the group's early ideologies espoused by its founder, Hassan al-Banna, which it says embrace violent jihad and promote terrorism.
     "All of the references to the organization's founding and its founding leaders is misleading and has nothing to do with how the Muslim Brotherhood has evolved," al-Gharbi said in an email.
     "This [proposed] law is extremely misguided and based on a faulty premise," said Ahmed Meiloud, a senior fellow at the Initiative.
     Though the text of the bill lays out a sordid history of the group's motives and previous use of violence, Meiloud says that since 1949, there is very little evidence to suggest that the group now condones terrorism, or has plans to use violence in North America.
     In Egypt, where the group is headquartered, "it has shunned violence, despite the severity of the persecution it is subjected to," Meiloud said in an email.
     In 2011, Egyptians toppled the government of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Under Mubarak's reign, the Muslim Brotherhood was officially banned, but tacitly tolerated.
     A year later, Egyptians elected Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi to the presidency, and the group emerged as the country's most powerful political force.
     In a reversal of fortune, and on the heels of a second wave of massive, popular protests, the Egyptian army ousted Morsi from his post a year later.
     Egypt's new president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, cracked down hard on the Muslim Brotherhood - a move that Sunni Gulf countries largely supported, fearing Arab Spring-like revolts that could topple their own governments.
     In Egypt, el-Sisi outlawed the Muslim Brotherhood, jailing thousands of the group's members without due process.
     Still, the group has not returned to violence, Meiloud said.
     "With thousands of its leading figures in jails - where they are being tortured and humiliated for civil, political activism - the Muslim Brotherhood has resisted all calls to violence against the military, which toppled its elected leader," he said.
     The text of the bill further builds its case for the designation by noting that Egypt labeled the group a terror organization in 2013, and Saudi Arabia followed suit in 2014. Several other gulf countries - Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates - have also designated the group as terrorists, along with Syria and Russia.
     Taking lessons from non-democratic and repressive regimes is puzzling to Meiloud and al-Gharbi.
     "Saudi Arabia is well-known as one of the world's top exporters of jihadist ideology," al-Gharbi said. "Then there's Russia, Syria and Egypt, which have a long history of branding dissidents as national security threats--actions that the U.S. has frequently criticized them for."
     Still, supporters of the bill believe the Muslim Brotherhood has a strategic goal for North America. The House Judiciary Committee's statement about the bill cites a 1991 memo written by Mohamed Akram to the Muslim Brotherhood's Shura Council in Egypt.
     The memo's strategy "is a kind of grand Jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and 'sabotaging' its miserable house by their hands and the hands of the believers so that it is eliminated and God's religion is made victorious over all other religions," the committee statement says.
     This quote was taken out of context from the full memo, al-Gharbi says, but he notes that Akram did not think highly of American culture.
     Still, al-Gharbi says violence was not the means by which the group sought to achieve its goals in the U.S.
     "Their purpose was to integrate themselves deeply in American life and culture, to become part of the fabric of American society, and to transform the country and its policies through grassroots activism--to create an indigenous Muslim social movement that would serve as a corrective to what they perceived to be imbalances and injustices," al-Gharbi said. "This was the type of 'jihad' they planned on carrying out here. Not violence."
     There is a better approach to ensure the Muslim Brotherhood does not return to violence to deal with its current political predicament in Egypt, al-Gharbi said.
     The U.S. could "acknowledge Egypt's military coup, encourage Sisi to restore civil order to the country, and allow the Muslim Brothers to participate peacefully in the government, which they are currently forbidden from doing," he said.
     Meiloud added that, given the combustible situation in the Middle East, with the U.S. at war with the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, "it is extremely unwise to send a message that the U.S. confuses active terrorists with one of the largest civil societies in the Muslim world."
     Legislation like that proposed by the House Judiciary Committee will undermine attempts to halt terrorist recruiting efforts, he said.
     "Muslim youth need assurance from the West that its war is not against every Muslim political group," Meiloud said. "This [bill] sends the opposite message."